Saturday, April 28, 2007

The Bible Summarized by a Smartass, Part Twenty-Eight: The Gospel of John

In the Bible, just as in real life, I'm really sick of hearing about Jesus. Since this is the fourth and final telling of the life of Christ, I just kind of blew it off. You know everything already, and John doesn't add a whole lot of new stuff to the mix, except the bad guy is Nicodemus and not Caiaphas, and Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead instead of a little girl. And then there's the whole doubting Thomas episode which adds...nothing, really. So, in a nutshell, here's the Gospel of John.

Jesus the Savior was a jolly, happy soul,
With his sandaled feet and disheveled robe,
And a simple wooden bowl.

Jesus the Savior was a man of virgin birth,
He came down from God, which did not seem odd,
For he saved the whole damn Earth.

There must have been some magic in
That wacky son of God,
For when he placed his hands on you
He would heal your very bod.

Jesus the Savior multiplied the very food,
And he taught all day while the children played
Just to do your soul some good.

Jesus the Savior had disciples on his way,
And he said “be good” so that they all would
Keep on teaching what he’d say.

The Pharisees and Roman g’s
Thought Jesus was a lie.
So they bought off Judas, kidnapped Jeez,
And they had him crucified.

Jesus the Savior resurrected in three days,
Then he waved goodbye, saying “Don’t you cry,
I’ll be back again some day!”

To, you know, end the world. See you then!

And so, we bid Jesus farewell as a narrative character, and next week we move on to The Acts of the Apostles. Be there!

Saturday Night ScarJo








Friday, April 27, 2007

Throwdown 4/27

15 thoughts, questions, and observations for the week.

1. Turns out Charlotte Church is pregnant. You should feel like an ass for making fun of her for being fat, but you won’t. Because you’re already an ass and you don’t understand that it’s not cool to slam a woman for not looking her best when she’s pregnant. I’m sure you looked like a million bucks while you were passing that kidney stone, Hercules.

2. Well, our long national nightmare is over. Rosie O’Donnell will not be on The View next season. Apparently, she wanted a ton of money, and ABC (and Disney) didn’t want the embarrassment anymore. Hey, whatever stops me seeing stories about how she and Donald Trump are loud assholes.

3. The media really needs to stop patting American Idol on the back for doing their “amazing” and “important” charity week. How much money did these people actually raise? This wasn’t a charity drive; this was a big commercial for FOX and a bunch of actors and nobodies to show how much they can really pretend to care. Except for Ellen DeGeneres announcing that she was going to donate $100,000, what else did they do? Give us film of Ryan Seacrest looking terrified to be out among African people? I know that American Idol absolutely loves to pretend that they’re an important, indispensable part of American culture, but standing around sucking their own dick doesn’t need to be celebrated by the media as genuine caring. Genuine caring doesn’t require celebration.

4. The media also needs to stop using “amazing” and “stunning” and “special” to describe Celine Dion’s singing a duet with old Elvis Presley footage, and start replacing it with words like “creepy” and “talentless” and “ghoulish” and “grave-robbing.”

5. Girls Gone Wild douchebag Joe Francis has been sentenced to 35 days for contempt of court, a number that will also allow the feds to tack a year onto his sentence should he be convicted of tax evasion. That ongoing case still has the potential of landing him 100 years of jail time, not only on the tax thing but also on contraband charges and a charge of using a minor in sexual performance. Never was a century of anal rape so deserved.


6. Kids, I told you once before: don’t do drugs and let someone videotape you. And don’t claim people are calling you an idiot for no reason, when the fact is you’re just an idiot.

7. Wow…they couldn’t have someone in airbrushing fix all of the ugly?

8. Jonathan Rhys-Myers went to rehab, which seems to be the hot new relaxation spa for celebrities. It’s no surprise he’s got problems with the bottle; I like him as an actor, but for the last couple of years, no matter what he’s in, he looks constantly stoned. But let me make one thing perfectly clear: I’d still blow him.

9. Lindsay Lohan is enjoying herself playing a junkie stripper so much in I Know Who Killed Me that she’s going to star in her director’s next picture, Hippy, which is basically a slasher movie about a killer on acid. It’s nice to see that Lindsay Lohan has finally realized she squandered her talent and is starring in the kind of movies more appropriate to her skill level.

10. Apparently, George Lucas hated Frank Darabont’s script for Indiana Jones and the 4pm Bedtime because it involved aliens and Roswell. That’s the story going around, anyway. But I don’t believe it’s true. I’ve read any number of the fake and real Indiana Jones IV scripts that have been going around for the last decade, and I read one back in ’98 or so called Indiana Jones and the Saucer Men which was the same thing. And if Darabont is ripping from one of those…well, he deserves to have George Lucas rip it apart.

11. I watched my girlfriend host Saturday Night Live last weekend and realized that the last time I actually watched the show was when she was on last season. Scarlett can get me to go anywhere. I liked her, but the show was pretty lame. Semaj recently said that currently SNL is all setup and no payoff, and boy is he ever right; they just can’t write a decent ending to a sketch anymore. No wonder those digital shorts are getting more and more popular: they’re the only thing on the show that’s really funny anymore. I just read that SNL is going to air a 2006/2007 season best of, but I can only imagine it must be 30 minutes long, mostly digital shorts, and will probably show “Dick in a Box” at least twice. Everything else will be Robert Smigel cartoons. And the funny part is, the cast is actually pretty good—no Jimmy Fallons fucking it up (though they could stand to finally get rid of Maya Rudolph already, for chrissakes)—but the writing is just terrible.

12. Well, Dino De Laurentis finally just up and bought the rights to remake Barbarella, just in case you were afraid it wasn’t going to suck. Kate Beckinsale is currently the favorite choice. It seems like they’ve been talking about a possible remake for at least a decade. Remember when John August was going to write it and Drew Barrymore was going to star? Halle Berry was mentioned for the role; so was Lindsay Lohan. De Laurentis apparently wanted to put Sienna Miller in the lead, which I just don’t really get. But Kate Beckinsale is currently top choice. The Daily Express says “the feeling is that Kate has just the right combination of beauty, humour and acting talent for the part.” Which is mystifying to me, as I’ve never seen that Kate Beckinsale has any of those three things. What she does have is a frightening inability to do any kind of accent well (witness her “moose-and-squirrel” Pottsylvanian accent in Van Helsing) and the ugliest boob job I’ve ever seen. Even worse than Posh Spice. So, at least there’s another movie I won’t have to ever see.

13. You know, it’s creepy enough when US Weekly does these things where they speculate on the youth of celebrities, but in their latest installment of “Would They Have Dated in High School?,” it does seem a little extra creepy to include pictures of Marilyn Manson and Evan Rachel Wood, considering that Wood, now 20, was in high school just a few years ago and Marilyn Manson, 38, graduated 20 years ago. I guess if Evan Rachel Wood always had a desire to date the school’s creepy, pervy janitor, the answer is yes. And in other Manson news, Marilyn Manson found a way to use Virginia Tech to get his name in the news. Way to exploit, Hackerella. He says that he was surprised when his music was blamed for Columbine, and he’s worried he’ll be blamed for Virginia Tech, too. Yeah, that would imply that someone’s actually listened to your shitty music for the past eight years, shack stack.

14. Jack Valenti, censorship enthusiast and former ratings board tyrant, finally died. I swear to God I’m usually not this petty, but…anyone else want to go with me and piss on his grave?

15. So, after seeing Alec Baldwin blow up at his daughter like an asshole, then beg to be let off of 30 Rock (the only good thing he had going for his career, showing what a dumb motherfucker he really is), then make a disgusting public apology, and then consult with Dr. Phil, the question must be asked: does this ass even have a private life anymore? Is there a single detail of Alec Baldwin that I don’t have to hear about? Seriously, Alec, Kim: do you ever think anything you don’t say? Do we have to be privy to every detail about your shitty marriage and pathetic, childish divorce? Because I find this kind of shit tiresome from Lindsay Lohan, and at least she has nice tits—what the hell chance do you think you have of me giving a shit?

The Power of Link Suggestion

I kind of enjoy being the kind of blogger whose readers find weird, dirty pictures on the internet and send it to him. At the very least, some of the pictures are amusing.

Now here's some stuff I found:
Another 300 trailer mashup, but the first one to make me laugh. (via MC)
Exquisitely Bored in Nacogdoches loves Prison Mike. So do I.
My New Plaid Pants on one of my favorite movies, Dario Argento's Opera.
Creepiest toy ever at Postmodern Barney.
Occasional Superheroine on the dickery of Wonder Woman.
Living Between Wednesdays rates a third super hunk: Batman.
Things I Learned in Prison (Cracked, by Jay Pinkerton)
Ken Levine on the creative license employed by some recent shows and one of his own: Cheers.
Nathaniel wants less movies about Hamlet and more about Macbeth.
ModFab's American Idolatry and comments on the insipid "results" circle jerk.
Semaj on Dungeons & Dragons (with a link to a hilarious video).
Nerve with a list of 20 Comics That Will Change Your Life. Most of them are right, but give me a break, Blue Monday? Blue Monday?! If your ambition is to be a girl who loves eighties music and Manga, maybe.
11 Guy Movie Classics (And Why They Secretly Suck) (Cracked)
Stale Popcorn has a very thoughtful review of Trust the Man.
Slowly Going Bald on Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, spoof, and satire.

In all seriousness.
Johnny Yen on the first Earth Day.
Deus Ex Malcontent on NBC's decision to air the Virgina Tech tape.
Tumuli has a short post detailing something truly awful.
Attentive Aphorist on mental illness.
The Last Visible Blog on the war.
Dr. Zaius on should-be-president Nancy Pelosi and the smear campaign against her.

15 Things Kurt Vonnegut Said Better Than Anyone Else (The Onion A.V. Club)

Via Semaj, this great old Pepsi ad. When I see those bubbles fly, it's orgasmic for me. But when I hear Martin Sheen talk, all I can think about is Saigon... shit... Saigon...

Iconic

I love cardigans and knee socks. Guess why.



Thursday, April 26, 2007

The End of Lost

With most of this season of Lost hovering around the line of totally ridiculous, I've started looking ahead to the final episode of the series. What's the best way to end the show? Will it have a happy ending, where everyone's okay? Or will it have one of those Twilight Zone style twist endings? The only thing I know for sure is that, with the geek factor so high, the finale can't possibly please everyone in the audience. But going with the twist ending, here are seven endings I'd like the producers of Lost to consider.

1. Danielle Rousseau shows up at the camp to tell Sayid that there's something he absolutely has to see. The two of them, along with Sawyer and Charlie, walk all the way to the edge of the island. To their surprise, Danielle walks on the water a few feet, and then disappears. When they follow her, they realize they are in an alien spaceship overlooking Earth. Some aliens, surprised to see their captives are loose, try to sudbue them, killing everyone except for Sawyer. Since everyone on this show is easily shamed by someone else's self-righteousness, the aliens ask Sawyer to consider what telling the other castaways would accomplish: nothing but a loss of hope. Sawyer, cowed, walks back to the beach and makes up a story about the others being eaten by sharks. THE END.

2. This show is suddenly obsessed with pregnancy. In the series finale, John Locke is taken to Ben, who reveals himself to be an archangel. Because Locke has always tried to act rightly and give others help (and the benefit of the doubt), his sins are absolved. Then, suddenly, he bursts out crying. Cut to a woman in a hospital giving birth--she names her baby John. And we realize that the whole of the series has been an allegory for the birth process, and that all of the characters are simply sperm who have died fighting one another for a chance to become born. Gross and creepy, but at least it's over. THE END.

3. The camera pulls back to reveal that the characters are microscopic and everything has taken place inside a petri dish. We are in a lab. A scientist played by Robbie Coltrane accidentally drops a precariously placed sticky bun on the petri dish, and everyone's screams are heard as they are crushed under a cream and cinnamon hell. And if you get that reference, you amaze even me. THE END.

4. Hurley makes it all the way to the center Dharma station, where he meets some crazy characters who crown him king of the island after a tribunal featuring some lovely late sixties guitar music. He is sent into a chamber to meet Number One, a shrouded figure who is sitting at a control station and, well, controlling the island. Hurley tears off the shroud, only to see a man in a monkey mask. Hurley rips the man's mask off, revealing his own father, Cheech Marin, who runs away. Hurley starts to follow, when Patrick McGoohan suddenly pulls him away. The find a semi truck and drive off, revealing that they were outside of Las Vegas the whole time, and Hurley is driven all the way home...only to walk into his own house and see the burned out remains of the hatch! He's still on the island! The island is everything! We are all prisoners! We are all...LOST! THE END.

5. After a final fight with the Others, Kate is the only person left alive. She decides to climb to the top of the mountain and wait for death to take her. When she gets there, she finds a camera control center, several editing bays, a craft service table, and a complete film crew. Jeff Probst walks out and tells her she's won a million dollars for surviving. THE END.

6. Charlie finds a boat and decides to go for help. When the engine cuts out, he drifts for several horrible days, singing Britpop to himself and hoping to find land. Finally, he washes up in the Sidney harbor at night. Thrilled to be back in civilization, he walks to the Sidney Opera House to the sounds of someone expertly singing a selection from Wagner's The Flying Dutchman. He walks in, only to see that the woman singing...is an ape! He looks around, panicked--everyone in the audience is an ape! Damn you! Damn you all to hell!!! THE END.

7. The army finally sends a helicopter to the island. Sawyer and Kate decide to stay behind and be together without their pasts catching up to them. There is a group hug and everyone sings "It's a Long Way to Tipperary." Then, as the helicopter pulls away, Kate spells out the word "GOODBYE" in rocks for everyone to see. As the helicopter flies off, a coconut falls out of a palm tree, hitting Sawyer in the head and knocking him unconscious. Suddenly, we cut to a bedroom, where Bob Newhart wakes up and tells Suzanne Pleshette he's just had a strange dream about a group of castaways lost on an island somewhere in the South Pacific. She tells him to go back to sleep, but he goes to the bathroom to put some water on his face. When he looks in the mirror--he's Patrick McGoohan! Then, we cut to an apartment building, where Patrick McGoohan walks in wearing overalls and a construction hard hat. "Any change today?" he asks, sitting down next to Kate, who is sitting on the couch watching television. "No," she says. "He just sits there and stares at it all day long. I wonder what he sees in there." Camera pans down to the dog Vincent, who is laying there, staring at a snow globe with a tropical island inside. THE END.

Nancy Allen, Where Have You Gone?

It's not just the generous amount of nudity I'm going to share with you, but talking about P.J. Soles yesterday made me think again about how much I miss Nancy Allen.

Nancy was in a number of movies that I liked from the late seventies to the early eighties: Carrie, I Want to Hold Your Hand, Dressed to Kill, Blow Out, and The Philadelphia Experiment. And I liked her in 1941, but that movie really sucks. Anyway, she was married to Brian De Palma from 1979 to 1983, but after her divorce her career really hit the skids (with the notable exception of RoboCop, one of the best movies ever). Since then, she's had small roles (think Out of Sight), straight to video junk (although her kiss with Linda Fiorentino in Acting on Impulse did not hurt), and appearances on TV shows. Today, she seems to have retired from acting. She's an environmentalist and an activist for breast cancer (Wendie Jo Sperber was one of her friends). She also appeared at a 2002 screening of Carrie with my darling P.J. Soles which I could shoot myself in the foot for not being at. But if she came back to the screen, large or small...I wouldn't hate it.

Anyway, about that nudity.



In 2006, the Internet Movie Database falsely reported that she died of a brain hemorrage. Nice one.

I miss you, Nancy Allen! Come back anytime. And if you don't, I hope you're still living the dream. Whatever dream it is.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

I Love You, Riff Randell

If you haven't seen Rock 'n' Roll High School yet, I have only one question to ask you: why the hell not? It's one of the great rock rebellion movies, featuring the music of the Ramones, mouses that blow up at the right frequency, and the one thing that really kicks this movie into overdrive and makes it something special: P.J. Soles as Riff Randell.

Oh, boy, did Riff Randell make an impression on me. P.J. Soles (born Pamela Jayne Hardon... that's pretty hot) had already been awesome in Carrie and the best part of Halloween ("TOtally!") when she starred as Riff, the girl who loves the Ramones so much that she writes the song "Rock 'n' Roll High School" for them, crashes one of their concerts, and invites them to Vince Lombardi High, where they take over the school and destroy the place.

"I just wanna have some kicks,
I just wanna get some chicks,
Rock, rock, rock, rock,
Rock 'n' roll high school"

Riff is just such a vibrant, perfect girl. In high school, I always wanted to be Riff's boyfriend. I knew girls like her, too, but I was just too damn shy. Rock chicks, man. They're the best. Not only is there nothing sexier than a chick with a guitar (as I've always said), but they know how to have fun and just don't give a fuck. Maybe that's the one thing sexier than a chick with a guitar: a woman who just doesn't give a fuck. Riff was fun, rebellious, sexy as hell, had a genuine smile, and just did not give a fuck. A girl who'd rather see the Ramones than go to school? Oh, hell yes, my friend.

P.J. Soles is a mom now, but still sexy and still cool (she was in The Devil's Rejects, which is cool as hell). And I still love the rock chicks. And I still love Riff Randell; hell, the name Riff is earmarked as a possible name for my little girl one day. But for now... well, there's always DVD. And the soundtrack, which features P.J. singing on it.

I love you, Riff Randell!

I Was Right

I always said that Anne Hathaway would even look sexy and beautiful in a paper bag.

Film Week

A review of the films I've seen this past week.

THE TESTAMENT OF DR. MABUSE (1933)
This is an enthralling picture. I have yet to see Fritz Lang’s first film about this character, Dr. Mabuse, the Gambler, but I have to track it down after seeing this. In this film, master criminal Dr. Mabuse (Rudolf Klein-Rogge in a suspenseful performance) is writing instructions for crimes from his cell in the asylum. Apart from being a masterpiece of suspense and build, Lang’s film makes a pretty clear reference to Hitler writing Mein Kampf while in prison. Propaganda Minister Goebbels didn’t even want to release the film, although he did want Fritz Lang for the head of the Reich Cinema; Lang, whose mother was Jewish, fled the country. He left behind one of his many masterpieces. **** stars.

THE BAREFOOT EXECUTIVE (1971)
Light as air Disney film about a chimp who picks all the right TV shows. Yeah, that pretty much says it all. Great to see Kurt Russell and John Ritter (in his film debut), but the film is alternately embarrassing and tedious. Disney apparently still thinks it’s 1957 and rebelliousness is playful. Lame. *1/2 stars.

AN EASTERN WESTERNER (1920)
HAUNTED SPOOKS (1920)
NUMBER, PLEASE? (1920)
GET OUT AND GET UNDER (1920)
I love Chaplin and Buster Keaton, but I’ve never been a huge fan of Harold Lloyd. He’s likable enough, but I’m never really fond of the formula—a milquetoast is forced to step up and become a man to win a woman’s hand. Some of the stunts are great, but I’m never really invested in them. *** stars apiece for some laughs and some neat stunts, but Number, Please? is my favorite of the four.

A SAILOR MADE MAN (1921)
At 46 minutes, this qualifies as Harold Lloyd’s first feature. The plot is the same as always, but it glides by and is fun to watch. It’s not The Freshman, but it’s pretty damn funny. *** stars.

SAFETY LAST! (1923)
One of Harold Lloyd’s genuine classics (my other favorites being The Freshman and The Kid Brother). It’s all worth it for the climactic scene of Lloyd climbing up the side of a building (including the famous clock scene). The plot almost doesn’t matter; it’s the construction of the film itself that’s the real joy. **** stars.

LOVE’S UNENDING LEGACY (2007)
The fifth film in Hallmark’s series of Janette Oke adaptations came so fast I nearly missed it; usually they wait a year, but the fourth film, Love’s Abiding Joy, only came out back in November. They’ve been dipping in quality, and this one just wasn’t very good. I knew that Katherine Heigl wasn’t going to play Marty (though I’m glad Dale Midkiff still plays Clark), but I was at least happy that Erin Cottrell was back for the third time as Missie Davis LaHaye. But opening the movie with Willie dead was a pretty big shock. And what happened to the other kids Clark and Marty had that weren’t even mentioned? I was interested in Missie’s story, but so much of it seemed to just arbitrarily happen to her. These are fairly Christian in tone and practice, and even God seems to only rate a perfunctory mention this time around. It’s time to stop making these, I think. ** stars.

AN AMERICAN RHAPSODY (2001)
This is a beautiful, quiet film about a family of Hungarian refugees. Tony Goldwyn and Nastassja Kinski play a couple who escape Communist Hungary with only one of their daughters in tow, waiting for Kinski’s mother to bring along their infant girl. But because of circumstances, the girl is sent to live with a Hungarian peasant family and her parents, now in America, spend years trying to get their second daughter out. By the time they do, she is a complete stranger to her real parents, and grows into a rebellious teenager (Scarlett Johansson) who feels like she belongs nowhere and is completely alienated from her real mother. This is a moving film about the refugee experience, about culture clash, and how political forces can affect the lives of everyone. A special little gem that did make me cry. **** stars.

HOT FUZZ (2007)
What can I say? Just like Shaun of the Dead, it’s clever and hilarious with some surprisingly genuine emotional moments. There’s nothing I can tell you except to say that this is a damn funny movie with a damned good cast, and I am in awe of the Edgar Wright/Simon Pegg/Nick Frost team. Jim Broadbent is especially great here, and the plot twist—which I won’t reveal—is so fucking funny that I laughed until I coughed and nearly puked. In Shaun, there was one great reference line that no one in the theater seemed to get (Ed’s “We’re coming to get you, Barbara,” a reference to Night of the Living Dead). There’s one here, too, also delivered by Nick Frost: “Forget it, Nick…it’s Sandford.” Pure genius. **** stars.

AMERICAN PSYCHO (2000)
I actually hate the Bret Easton Ellis novel this is based on, but I loved Mary Harron’s other two films, so I finally sat to watch this. And I’m glad I did. I thought this was masterful. Why is there such a negative opinion of this movie? Do people just not get the satire element? The whole point of the movie is that just under the surface of “polite” society there exists a violence that occasionally explodes in people. And society just doesn’t care—they figure if they ignore it, it won’t really exist. Maybe it’s the price they pay to live their cushy yet incredibly stressful lives. But it’s there. This is a great film, one that captures the essence of the eighties corporate lifestyle. And that satire is just jaw-droppingly on target. You almost want to laugh until you really realize the implications here. That’s three movies Mary Harron’s directed, and like the other two, I have to give this one **** stars.

THE COLLECTOR (1965)
I always hate to be critical of something so pedantic, but John Fowles’s novel is one of my all time favorites, and this movie adaptation is on the weak side. William Wyler directed this film about a butterfly collector who “collects” a woman he is in love with. Terence Stamp is very good. Samantha Eggar is game and quite lovely, but doesn’t have much of a role to play (sadly). There isn’t much depth here; it’s very straightforward and doesn’t play with the psychology. There are no real emotions. Good, but it could have been so much more. *** stars. Maurice Jarre’s score is lovely, but totally inappropriate to this movie.

CURSE OF THE GOLDEN FLOWER (2006)
There was once a time when I thought Zhang Yimou’s films were cold and remote. But between Hero, House of Flying Daggers, and Curse of the Golden Flower, I’ve seen some great filmmaking. Gong Li, an actress I didn’t like until I saw her in Memoirs of a Geisha, outdoes herself here as Empress Phoenix. This is a royal family drama that is nearly Shakespearean; or to use Bolt, it’s The Lion in Winter as a Chinese imperial drama. Emperor Ping (Chow Yun-fat) wants to remove his first son as Crown Prince and replace him with his middle son Jai, a great warrior. The Empress, however, has plans of her own: there is pain to rectify and revenge to be taken. Like Zhang’s other films, this is stunningly beautiful to look at. The choreography is exquisite, the colors are bold—this was another one of those films that made me wonder why American films have to be so dark and drab. The acting is superb, and the predictability of the story doesn’t take anything away from its beauty and majesty. Yes, it’s anachronistic (the Forbidden City wasn’t built until around 500 years after this movie takes place) and it’s ahistorical, but so what? So is Shakespeare. And this is on that same level. Amazing. **** stars.

NAZTY NUISANCE (1943)
Apparently, The Devil with Hitler did well enough that Hal Roach decided to make a second B picture with Bobby Watson getting knocked around as Hitler. Instead of Satan, this time Hitler, Mussolini, and Sukiyaki go to a fictional Arab country to sign a deal with a despot, but are tormented by a shipwrecked American sailor pretending to be a magician. Completely stupid, but kind of fun, just like The Devil with Hitler. I wonder how audiences reacted to these at the time; it’s kind of disappointing to me that people are so overly sensitive, so PC, so afraid not to be fair to everyone all the time, that barely anyone has parodied Osama bin Laden in entertainment. Yes, it’s propaganda, but come on, why is it so forbidden? **1/2 stars.

IN AMERICA (2002)
This is, for me, Jim Sheridan’s masterpiece. The story of an Irish immigrant family who moves to New York City, what makes this film are the wonderful performances. Paddy Considine, an actor I like more and more as I see him in more movies, plays the father, an actor trying hard to do the right thing for his family. Samantha Morton plays his supportive wife, who believes in him even when it may be reckless to. There’s this scene with the family at a fair that is one of the most harrowing scenes I’ve ever seen in a movie. They’re also dealing with the recent loss of their infant son, while raising their two girls (Sarah and Emma Bolger, charming as all get-out) in an environment that is harsh to the innocent. During all of this, the family strikes up a friendship with Djimon Hounsou, playing an artist who is slowly dying of AIDS. This could easily descend into bathos and scenes of histrionics, but the whole movie unfolds through the characters and their very human reactions to life and death, hope and sadness, joy and pain. It’s magical, this one. **** stars.

GOSFORD PARK (2001)
I’ve mentioned before that I’m really not a big fan of Robert Altman. I like a few of his movies, but I also feel that he has a tendency to just throw a bunch of actors into a movie and let them mill about not really doing much in an underwritten script that is meant to be observational but really isn’t about anything. And for me, this was one of those, only with British actors. There are some of my favorite actors in the world here (Helen Mirren, Derek Jacobi, Clive Owen, Stephen Fry, Michael Gambon, Eileen Atkins, Jeremy Northam) and other magnificent talents. But there’s no story to connect with. It looks pretty, but like a lot of other Altman movies I don’t like, it’s not to any great effect. **1/2 stars. For the record, the Altman films I like are M*A*S*H, Brewster McCloud, The Long Goodbye, and The Player. But there are a number I’ve yet to see.

UNITED 93 (2006)
I heard someone compare this film to The Passion of the Christ and Black Hawk Down, and I thought those were perfect comparisons: I didn’t like those movies, either. This is a real-time docudrama of the events of 9/11, both on the ground and in the air, with some speculation as to what occurred on United flight 93. A sobering experience? Not so much. I didn’t have any connection with this movie at all. Like the other two films mentioned, things happen and then it’s over. There are no characters to care about, no viewpoints expressed, no feelings evoked. I remember watching the plane hit that second tower on live television. I remember feeling panic and confusion, and overwhelming sadness and fear throughout the day. This movie does nothing to convey those emotions. It has tried so hard to be even-handed and fair and objective, that the film is completely antiseptic. How can I care about something that isn’t real (it’s a film, not a documentary) when there is no acting, no dialogue, and no point of view. There’s nothing; it’s hollow, and I don’t care how hard-hearted that makes me sound. I’m not reviewing a real-life occurrence, I’m viewing a film representation of it, and I was almost offended by the way everyone in the movie intones their lines and keeps looking at things like they know one of the most important events in modern history is happening around them. This is not a movie about people. It’s a movie about how Hollywood can justify making money by deifying the events of United 93. And I thought that was pretty cheap. No stars.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

The Health Report: Week 19

In the movie American Beauty, there's a scene where Kevin Spacey decides to take up jogging. Asking his gay neighbors for help, they ask what he wants out of fitness--better tone, more energy, etc. His answer: "I want to look good naked."

That's pretty much the same thing I want. In fact, when my friend Angie asked me what I was hoping to accomplish with my weight loss, I said: "So I can fuck whomever I want to." Of course, that's not the only reason, but it's up there. I also want to stop being sick all the time, gain my energy back, and just not look so awful. But fucking anyone I want, that's a big one.

On a side note, I just found out that my sister reads this blog on occasion. I have her car right now, which I renamed Fantasma, and I know she's worried I'm going to ruin it somehow. The aformentioned Angie said, brilliantly, "You should totally smoke and fuck in her car and then get it cleaned right before she comes back, so you'll always know what you did but she won't."

Heh, heh, that's beautiful Angie. But, come on, it's not like my sister's going to get her car back anyway, right?

This week is another in an alarming series of write-offs. I talked to PT today (remember her? my private trainer who put me on this program in the first place?), and she asked me how I've been sticking to my diet. I was ashamed to say that I've not been sticking to it this past week. Alcohol was involved. So was Italian food, which I know I'm not supposed to eat and, believe me, my body's been getting its revenge all day long. So there's another one for willpower. And my insides.

As for my outsides...well, mom came by this weekend and took me shopping and ended up buying me all manner of health and grooming products. Did you know there exists such a thing as a facial scrub? Okay, I'm not that naive, but I've never actually thought of using one. But now I do. And I've taken to shaving again; the goatee and 'stache remain, but the scraggly thickness of the rest of my face is going to be gone. I have a hard time shaving; my beard can get thick and out of control, and those rinky-dink little safety razors just ain't doing it. Nor the electric. What I do want is a real, old-fashioned shaving razor. There's nothing like shaving with one of those. But they're so damn expensive anymore--jeez, it's just a razor and a handle, how much should it really cost? But I think it's a niche purchase these days, and I can't find any except on the internet, and then it's a couple of hundred bucks. No thanks. Shick Quattro it is. For now... Anyway, if I keep it short and shave every day, it goes better for me. At least I have a decent aftershave now: Skin Bracer by Mennen. I know, it's cheap, but I love the way it smells. It's got that old-fashioned barber shop sort of smell to it. It's a light smell, something that you can't get unless you're very close to me, mixing with my Old Spice body wash for a clean smell. I like smelling clean. I hate to tell you how new that is, though.

So at least I'm feeling clean on the outside. It's the inside that's got to come back to bear.

And I've figured out how we can save around fifty bucks a month on my bills, so that's nice.

Still going strong. And thanks to one of you who was very kind this morning and offered to listen if I feel down. You know who you are, and you know I'm grateful. Or you do now. Thanks, again.

David Halberstam Is Gone

"Memory is often less about the truth than about what we want it to be." -- David Halberstam

God damn it, we could use a few David Halberstams right now.

David Halberstam won the Pulitzer Prize when he was my age: 30 years old. He wrote one of the most important books in American history, The Best and the Brightest, which helped to change public opinion about the possibilities of victory in Vietnam. In doing so, he contributed in some way to educating the American public, and to ending one of the worst military blunders in US history.

Which is why we need him now.

But David Halberstam, 73 years old and still writing, was killed yesterday morning in a car accident at Menlo Park, California. He was being driven to an interview when his car was broadsided. Pronounced dead at the scene. And he is no longer with us.

This has been a time of silencing great voices. In the past couple of years, the important voices, the ones we needed, the ones who searched for truth and never ended their quest to educated us, have been silenced. Dan Rather was fired. Molly Ivins and Kurt Vonnegut were taken from us. Hunter S. Thompson took himself out of the game. And now Halberstam. The voices are being silenced. We are losing our champions.

I can't wait to see what sort of an obituary FOX "News" runs on Halberstam.

When talking about the war in Vietnam, he said that your leaders wouldn't tell you the truth, but "if you went out in the field among American advisors, the people out there in the field, the captains, the majors, would tell you the truth." That's a good quote, especially today, when we're embroiled in the Middle East and what looks to many of us like another Vietnam (and which was sold to us like it was going to be another Grenada). On today of all days, when George W. Bush has announced once more that he will veto the bill to set a timetable for the Iraq pullout (by April 2008). Some people point out that Lyndon Johnson made the same mistake in Vietnam, escalating troops in an attempt to secure his legacy. But there's a difference between Johnson and Bush. Johnson wanted people to have civil rights.

Bush says that our soldiers are caught in a showdown between the White House and Congress. General Petraeus urges a political, not a military solution. Bush continues to quibble over words like "failure," which reminds one all too chillingly of Nixon's bleating about "peace with honor." It didn't work then, and it won't work now. And we'll have to spend decades doing the work and restoring our place on the world stage. We have lost our credibility, our dignity, and our appearance as a major power. The world has already seen our weakness in the futile war we continue to fight. They've laughed at us openly because we have elected an infantile president. Is there anyone out there who honestly believes that the rest of the world is just being ungrateful? What have we done to help them since Bush took office?

I'm sick of being told that people like Senator Harry Reid are undercutting the morale of our soldiers. I'm sick of people in Washington waving the troops around like a flag to deflect any criticism, as if the people in charge of this war give a shit about troops. They don't care about the troops at all. They wouldn't even allow the press to show images of their coffins. I guess that might present them as people, and the warmongers like to see them as impersonal numbers. I think that what's probably hurting the morale of the soldiers is being told they can't go home because their tours have been extended. Or not having clear orders or a clear plan of action. Or standing around, waiting just to be told who to go out and kill. Or being lied to when told the reasons they're fighting the war. Or when the US government starts to reinstate the Baath party members of the government that were removed because, we were told, they were supporting terrorism (they weren't). The second it was announced that there were no weapons of mass distraction in Iraq, Bush should have been impeached. He should be on trial at the Hague right now.

Progress, we're told. We're always told there's been progress. 9 paratroopers killed by a car bomb this morning, but there's progress. 14 people killed in the Green Zone this morning by a suicide bomber, but there's progress. As of this writing, at 10:56 Central Time on 24 April 2007, there have been 124 military casualties in Iraq this month. Do you want to know how many civilian deaths there have been in just the last 24 days? 1,086. I think that undercuts morale. And yet, every week, as the war drags further and further on, as Bush looks out into that cloudy, unfocused, pathetic vision he has for the future, we're told that the war will end. Just not now. Someday. A time he can't name.

I'm sick of this pathetic shit. Bush needs to be reminded that America isn't his private corporation. He works for us. And it's time he was up for review by his bosses. In a just world, this ass wouldn't even be able to make shift manager at a convenience store, because he obviously can't run operations and isn't to be trusted around money. He works on his own schedule and deflects and lies when he's called on his bullshit. Can we just get rid of this guy, please?

David Halberstam said that the Iraq War reminded him a hell of a lot of Vietnam. "The crueler the war gets, the crueler the attacks get on anybody who doesn't salute or play the game," he said. "And then one day, the people who are doing the attacking look around and they've used up their credibility."
Wake up, Mr. Bush. It's time for you to shut up and do what we say.

Monday, April 23, 2007

What Does It Take to Get Out of Iraq?

Buried in the Virginia Tech aftermath and the joyous news of the identity of Anna Nicole's babby daddy was this little nugget: America is abandoning its plans to train an Iraqi standing army. Remember how, for the past year and a half, President Duh has been telling us that it's important to train an Iraqi army to take over from our own soldiers? And that it would allow our troops to start coming home? Well, they're not going to do that anymore. Instead, Bush has resolved to keep America in the Middle East until the Jihadists have been defeated and we've "secured control." Training Iraqi troops so the country can handle its own problems is no longer a priority.

This change hasn't even been announced, by the way. It was reported on, but there has been no official statement from the White House, the Pentagon, or Baghdad. Col. Gary Keck, a spokesman for the Pentagon, described it as "just adding another leg to our mission." The McClatchy Washington Bureau reported that there are no new training resources included in the surge, but also pointed out that no one is willing or authorized to speak publicly about this sudden change in policy.

So here's where we're at: 28,000 extra troops planned. Bush is holding the soldiers already there hostage by extending their tours to 15 months at a stretch. General Petraeus will probably be asking to maintain the troop increase until the end of 2008.

And then it's the same tired rhetoric. "Well, conditions have changed, and stability issues, and stability is coming, and sectarian violence and fumfuh fumfuh fumfuh." Look, fish or cut bait, alright? Conquer the damn place or get the hell out.

President Bush in 2005: "Our strategy can be summed up this way: as the Iraqis stand up, we will stand down."

In 2006, we were told that the training was a success and that 8 of Iraq's 10 divisions had taken the lead.

Now, apparently, we're being told that the Iraqi army is corrupt, that it's been infiltrated by insurgents, and that they can't control anything. In Tal Afar, which Bush had formerly pointed to as indicative of the success of his plan, Sunnis set off a bomb that killed 150 people, the largest single bombing attack of the war. Shiite mobs went on a killing spree, executing dozens of people until the US was able to restore order. The Iraqis also lost control of Diwaniyah last year.

So really what the US is saying by abandoning the Iraqi training program is that we don't expect that Iraq will ever be able to take control of itself. They're spinning the results of the November election by saying that the results "obviously" mean that America doesn't have the patience for Iraqi troops to be trained, which seems to be the president's way of erroneously saying that America wants a troop surge. I think our government sees the Iraqis as children who've been given a playhouse to run and don't know how to do it. Paul Hughes of the US Institute for Peace even said, rather condescendingly: "In our initial efforts to hand security missions over to Iraqi forces, we took the training wheels off too early--and the bike fell over."

But the real problem no one seems to grasp is that there is no longer an Iraq. The only people who still want an Iraq are the people just trying to live from day to day under the constant threat of violence; the kind of people who are never really affected by war or by big issues, but who just want to live, work, and take care of their families. They don't care about oil or insurgency or religious freedoms or foreign policy--they care that their kids can go to school and eat every day. Those people, when they can, are fleeing the country. Jordan has taken in 700,000 refugees from Iraq; according to the UN, more than 1 in every 10 people in Jordan is an Iraqi refugee, which strains the Jordanian infrastructure to the tune of a billion dollars annually. Most of those people are Shiites entering a country that already had a 15.5% unemployment rate. This will be a religious problem; Jordanian newspapers are already worried about Shiite conversions. And there has been some violence.

The same is happening in Syria, where the regime in Assad is Islamist and is already resented by a Sunni majority. They have taken in a million Iraqi refugees. Many of the refugees in both countries are unregistered; more will be illegal once their visas expire. We're now starting to hear reports of child labor and prostitution.

The European Union is contributing money to host countries, though that won't last forever. Neither will Jordan's scarce water supply. Some of the countries in the EU are also accepting refugees from Iraq, with Sweden currently hosting 9,000.

But in Iraq, the fight is as it has always been: Sunnis and Shiites, neither really wanting to live with one another. For centuries, the Ottoman Empire kept Mosul, Baghdad, and Basra as separate as they could and kept the violence down. Saddam Hussein also kept the violence down. It took US involvement to make the violence explode into an unwinnable situation that millions of Iraqis are fleeing from. There are not many people who want to keep Iraq unified in the arbitrary, catch-all border that Winston Churchill forced on the Middle East after World War I. They don't want to live together. And they won't, unless another strongman like Saddam is appointed by the US. Building a wall is not going to help. Nothing is.

McClatchy quoted an anonymous State Department official on the policy in Iraq: "Our strategy now is to basically hold on and wait for the Iraqis to do something."

They are. They're just not doing what the president wants. And he doesn't care how many people, American or Iraqi, die to give him what he wants.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Song of the Week: "There Is a Light That Never Goes Out"

From Chuck Klosterman IV:

"People feel nervous around Cruz Rubio. That's unfair, but it's true. He looks like a badass: Dude is twenty years old, he's from East Los Angeles, the sleeves are ripped off his flannel shirt, and he looks like an extra from the movie Colors. I have no doubt whatsoever that he could kick the shit out of me on principle. But I am not nervous around Cruz Rubio. I am not nervous, because he is telling me how Morrissey makes him weep.

"Some nights I lay in my bedroom and I listen to 'There Is a Light That Never Goes Out,' and I cry," he tells me. "I cry and cry and cry. I cry like a little bitch, man."
The Smiths, 1986. Video directed by Derek Jarman. Beautiful, beautiful song.

Sunday Hottie 116

KATHARINE McPHEE